CHESTER, Pa. -- C.J. Sapong remained on fire, and the Philadelphia Union can breathe easier after a much-needed win.
Fueled by a second-half goal from Sapong and a staunch defensive effort, the Union escaped with a 1-0 win over the depleted Seattle Sounders on Wednesday night at PPL Park.
The Sounders (9-6-2), who came into the night in first place in the Western Conference, have now suffered shutout losses in three of their last four games. They registered only two harmless shots on target and could have lost by more if not for a big night from goalkeeper Stefan Frei, who stopped a first-half Maurice Edu penalty kick and a Fred breakaway in the 83rd minute.
Union goalie Brian Sylvestre, on loan from the NASL’s Carolina Railhawks, registered his fourth shutout in just eight MLS games.
The Union (5-10-3), owners of the league’s worst points-per-game average coming in, snapped a two-game slide in a rematch of last year’s US Open Cup championship, which the Sounders won at PPL Park.
Sapong, who wasn’t a part of Philly’s USOC finalist squad, got behind the Seattle defense and headed home a perfect cross from Sheanon Williams in the 69th minute. It was the fourth straight game in which Sapong has scored, which matches a franchise record, and his fifth goal in the last six contests.
The game was scoreless until then despite Union captain Edu’s best efforts to find the back of the net.
It appeared Edu broke the deadlock in the 27th minute but he had a goal called back when Andrew Wenger was whistled for infringing Frei on a long throw-in from Williams.
Just three minutes later - on another Williams throw - Wenger made amends by drawing a penalty on Dylan Remick. But Frei made a diving stop on Edu’s penalty attempt to keep the game scoreless.
Sapong and Seattle’s Gonzalo Pineda both had attempts go just wide in the first 20 minutes. But there were few other scoring chances before the break for the two shorthanded teams.
The Union were without top attacking players Fernando Aristeguieta, Sebastien Le Toux and Conor Casey, while the Sounders didn’t have strikers Clint Dempsey, Obafemi Martins and Chad Barrett, as well as Brad Evans, Osvaldo Alonso and others. Reigning MLS Defender of the Year Chad Marshall made the trip but only played the final nine minutes.
Fisher made a big defensive play in the 62nd minute to break up a scoring chance from Eric Ayuk just after the rookie came into the contest. Six minutes earlier, Union midfielder Cristian Maidana nearly gave the Union a lead but blasted a shot from distance into the side netting wide.
Both clubs face a quick turnaround. The Union are back in action Saturday when they host Montreal. The Sounders return to the Pacific Northwest for a road match at Portland.
Dave Zeitlin covers the Union for MLSsoccer.com. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.